Energy Transition and Port-Hinterland relations. The Rotterdam oil port and its transport relations to the West German hinterland, 1950–1975

Marten Boon
  • Erasmus University Rotterdam, ESHCC / Room W-L-3-007, DR ROTTERDAM, Niederlande


The energy transition from coal to oil that evolved in Western Europe in the 1950s and 1960s caused the Ruhr coal mining sector to descend into crisis, whilst the Rotterdam port experienced unprecedented growth. The Rotterdam port developed from a transit port for its Rhine-Ruhr hinterland into Europe’s largest oil and petrochemical refining cluster. The literature assumes that industrialization decreased the German hinterland’s importance to the Rotterdam oil port. However, the extent to which this holds has received surprisingly little attention in the port’s historiography, a point that this paper aims to redress. Central research questions are: How and why did the energy transition in the Rhine-Ruhr hinterland affect the development of the Rotterdam oil port between 1950 and 1975? How did this affect transport relations between the port and its hinterland? Using transport statistics, the paper concludes that in terms of the port’s transit function, the German hinterland has indeed declined in importance to the Rotterdam oil port. However, in terms of the port’s production function, the German hinterland has provided significant market potential for the development of the oil refining cluster in the port and remained important throughout the period.

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The Economic History Yearbook is a forum for scientific discussion about economic development, the logic of the market, as well as the social and cultural contexts of economic activity from the 16th century to the present. Geographically, it focuses on Europe and especially on Germany, emphasizing comparative perspectives.